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Illinois Lawmakers Propose Bill Legalizing Recreational Marijuana

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Medical marijuana is already legal in Illinois, and newly introduced legislation hopes to add the Land of Lincoln to the small but growing list of states allowing the sale and use of recreational pot.

Bills introduced in both chambers of the Illinois legislature this week seek to make it legal for adults (21 and over) to possess, grow, and purchase up to 28 grams of marijuana. If passed, the bills would also provide for legalized retail sales of marijuana products.

“Marijuana prohibition is a quagmire that creates far more problems than it prevents,” Rep. Kelly Cassidy, who introduced the bill in the House, said in a statement to the Marijuana Policy Project. “Several states have adopted sensible alternatives to prohibition, and it is time for Illinois to develop its own exit strategy. Regulating marijuana and removing the criminal element from marijuana production and sales will make our communities safer.”

Legalizing marijuana could be just the moneymaker the state needs, the lawmakers say: Eight states have now enacted laws regulating and taxing marijuana for adult use, and the budget benefits have been apparent in some of those parts of the country.

Sen. Heather Steans, sponsor of the Senate version of the bill, notes that Oregon collected more than $60 million in new revenue from a tax on marijuana – more than six times what the Oregon Liquor Control Commission expected for the 2015-2017 budget period — and Colorado collected more than $140 million from taxes on legal weed sales.

The bills propose taxing marijuana at a rate of $50 per ounce at the wholesale level, while retail sales would be subject to the state’s standard 6.25% sales tax. According to estimates from the MPP, regulated marijuana sales could generate between $349 million and $699 million per year in new revenue for Illinois.

“It is clear that individuals across the nation are receptive to purchasing marijuana through a legal market,” Sen. Steans said. “Legalizing and taxing marijuana will not and should not solve all of our budget woes, but it should be a part of the conversation about resolving Illinois’ worsening budget problems. Every bit of new revenue will help to close the governor’s $5 billion budget gap.”

Sen. Steans also wants to explore the issue of marijuana as an alternative to opioids for pain management.

“I believe that we should explore all options to ending the opioid epidemic,” Steans said. “I think that by legalizing marijuana, we could see a drop in opioid overuse.”

Earlier this month, Rep. Tom Garrett of Virginia introduced a bill that would, if passed, put an end to the federal criminalization of marijuana. If the Ending Federal Prohibition Of Marijuana Act is passed, it would amend the Controlled Substances Act to leave it up to each state to decide if marijuana — recreational or medical — is illegal there.

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